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I've done both - 3 years as an employee across two different startups, 18 months as a founder, 5.5 years at Google, and now 18 months as a founder. I guess I'm quoted in the article too. :-)

All I can say is that the market is actually a lot more efficient than most people give it credit for. I remember coming out of school and thinking "Why would anyone work for a big company when the payouts for startups are so much better?" After a bunch of experience, I've found that:

1. Those big startup payouts are much rarer than a typical new grad conceives. They're also more widely distributed: perception is that startups are "go big or go home", but a number of companies end in talent acquisitions that are just slightly less or more than what the founders would've earned at a big company.

2. Compensation at big companies varies wildly, and people with the effort & effectiveness levels that you'd expect from a startup often are actually making startup-level money. There is zero reason for anyone doing this to publicize that fact, and oftentimes they're contractually forbidden from disclosing it.

For people trying to decide between these - forget about the financial rewards and ask yourself "What would you like your working life to be like?" I'd also forget the common wisdom about startups = no life & big companies = drudging pace; both of these are inaccurate on a micro-level, and you can find startups that prioritize work-life balance or teams within a big company where everyone's life revolves around work.

Instead, think about the problems you would like to solve. Do you want to do cutting edge research that pushes humanity's knowledge forwards? Work for a research lab or big company's research department. Do you want to bring new technologies to the masses? Then you want a startup, probably one that has spun out of a major university with a couple professors as founders. Do you want to put social hacks in motion and bring technology to ordinary lives? That's probably also a startup, probably one with young founders. Do you want to scale technologies and work with big data or machine learning? Big company; startups usually lack ownership of enough data, unless they're a consultancy. Do you want to apply technology to an industry that currently does things backwardly? Join a startup whose founders have significant domain knowledge in that industry.

If you work on problems that you believe in, you'll find that you're much more effective at solving them. The financial rewards follow after that; money is a lagging indicator for value generated, not a leading one.




"oftentimes they're contractually forbidden from disclosing it"

Is that true? That sounds illegal.


You'd be surprised how unwilling people are to risk breaking contracts even when the actual terms are not valid or enforceable. Not to mention that there are plenty of ways to get fired over something you can't legally be fired for.




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